Module Catalogue 2021/22

SEL2219 : Monsters, Misery & Miracles: Heroic Life in Old English Poetry

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Aditi Nafde
  • Lecturer: Dr Adam Mearns
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module introduces students to the poetry of the early middle ages in its original language, thereby allowing them to study the very beginnings of literature in English. Old English poetry covers a wide range of genres, including wisdom literature, religious verse, heroic and elegiac poetry, and innuendo-laden riddles.

The module will explore literature that negotiates between the Germanic, heroic, Christian, and quotidian cultures that pervaded the age and were especially relevant to the North of England. As such, this module is uniquely placed to address topics of race, gender, and othering, which have a deep and sometimes troubling association with an English past.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will focus on three main texts in their original language. It will start by examining the earliest dream poem in English, instrumental in establishing the conventions for describing religious experience, The Dream of the Rood. This will be followed by a deeply moving poem about loss and loneliness, The Wanderer. Finally, the module will examine one of the greatest poems about heroes, monsters, and warfare, Beowulf.

Students will 'slow read' these text by creating their own translations of the original Old English. They will gain an understanding of the key features of the language and its poetics and, in doing so, will have the opportunity to examine and reflect on their own poetic impulses. Students will also situate these texts in their literary contexts by reading a wider range of other Old English poetry in translation, as well as reflect on the place of Old English literature today.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

By the end of the module, students will:

-Be able to analyse selected Old English texts and their historical and generic contexts

-Be able to show relevant knowledge of Old English literary history, its predominant themes and concerns

-Be aware of different theoretical, conceptual, and contextual approaches to reading a specialised aspect of Old English literature

-Have an awareness of the linguistic, social, and cultural contexts informing this literature

-Have a familiarity with and the ability to apply relevant conceptual and contextual approaches to this body of work

-Have a greater awareness of the context in which we read these texts now, including their potential for (mis)interpretation and (mis)appropriation.

Intended Skill Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

-Analyse Old English literature in its original language

-Translate Old English texts with the aid of dictionaries, glossaries, and online material

-Assimilate information from a number of sources: literary, historical, critical, theoretical, and manuscript

-Critically compare and contrast different texts and contexts

-Identify and explore issues linked to relevant concerns in the study of a specialised area of Old English Literature

-Read and comprehend literary works written in early medieval England

-Exercise and develop a sensitivity to verbal creativity.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Linguistic, literary, and historical background; key module activities
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00Reading and translation
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading197:0097:00Reading and translation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars that cover language work and analysis of set texts in their literary/linguistic context
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops101:0010:00Translation discussion
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery12:002:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce students to the contexts of the texts they will study in the module, including linguistic and literary background. Translation discussion sessions provide guidance and support for the translation of the core texts and an opportunity to consider the creative processes involved in producing poetry of this kind. Small group teaching seminars develop the topics of the lectures and enable the practice of skills, namely close textual analysis, critical thinking, literary, oral, written, and interpersonal communication, and the synthesis and presentation of textual material.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A1003,000 word essay
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MN/A
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Mid-module written exercise (1000 words): students will produce a close reading commentary on a passage of Old English.

End of module essay (3000 words): using their understanding of Old English and translation practices, students will write a comparative, thematic piece on at least two different Old English texts. Students will have the option of producing an essay with either a literary or linguistic focus.

The mid module close reading exercise will give students a base on which to build their understanding Old English language and poetics, their own translation practices, and those of others. They will use this understanding in their end of module essay to produce detailed textual evidence for their argument. The mixed modes of assessment (close reading and comparative/contextual analysis) ensures good coverage of the texts and focusses students on detailed aspects of the module materials, connecting their ideas with the module's broader themes.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2021/22 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2022/23 entry will be published here in early-April 2022. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.